The UK's largest mobile phone network, EE, has been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner for sending customers marketing text messages without obtaining consent.
The text messages encouraged customers to use the EE app and to upgrade their handsets. Although EE claimed the texts were ‘service’ messages, the ICO ruled that because they contained promotional material they were in fact direct marketing messages and as such they needed customer consent.
According to the ICO, EE sent more than 2.5 million of the texts during early 2018.
Andy White, director of investigations says: “These were marketing messages which promoted the company’s products and services. The direct marketing guidance is clear: if a message that contains customer service information also includes promotional material to buy extra products for services, it is no longer a service message and electronic marketing rules apply.
“EE Limited were aware of the law and should have known that they needed customers’ consent to send them in line with the direct marketing rules.”
“Companies should be aware that texts and emails providing service information which also include a marketing or promotional element must comply with the relevant legislation or could face a fine up to £500,000.”
Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com says the fine is a wake-up call to the industry.
“It is an extremely competitive marketplace at the best of times and with the arrival of 5G, all networks, including EE, are trying to convince customers to come on board with them for this new stage of the journey.
“But there is a fine line in how this messaging is worded, and with consumers enjoying both great choice and great freedom to explore alternatives, networks will need to be more careful than ever in striking the right balance.
“End-of-contract notifications, from early next year, will make customers more aware that they can shop around for new deals, while the arrival of Text to Switch on Monday will make the process of leaving a network even easier."
EE says it accepts the ICO's findings and aimed to improve its processes. "We're committed to ensuring our customers are fully aware of their options throughout the life of their contract, and we apologise to the customers who received these messages," it says.